This event has ended. Create your own event on Sched.
Back To Schedule
Monday, May 16 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(General Session: Get Ready, Get Set - Emergency Preparedness) Cologne Historical Archive Collapse: a critical history of emergency situation and ongoing disaster recovery process

Log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

On March, 3rd 2009, almost the entire building of the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne collapsed into the subway tunnel underneath, causing a great loss of valuable documents and taking two lives. About 30 shelf kilometers of numerous important collections of records lay among sand and rubble, buried at between 12 and 28 meters below street level. This emergency case brought together firemen, archive staff members and volunteer citizens to work hard to salvage these documents. The archive housed 1,000-year-old records, among those about 65,000 charters on paper and parchment, and 2,000 manuscripts. The entirety of these unique historical accounts needs to be identified, re-registered, and conserved immediately for future generations. The salvaging procedure was successfully completed in August of 2011; an estimated 15% of our objects were slightly damaged, 50% sustained medium damage and 35% were heavily deteriorated. Damages vary from small scratches on paper or parchment to huge holes in entire books. As an ongoing disaster recovery process, we are currently developing and improving conservation measures in a temporary off-site building established after the collapse. A team of more than 50 conservation technicians and 20 worldwide conservators work on these projects, closely with archivists and process analysts. Typical daily tasks include: identification, registration, condition report, dry cleaning, quality control, categorization (depending of possibility of direct or indirect use), digitization, and rehousing. The procedures are still evolving, using feedback from co-workers to improve our system. In our case, the term “conservation” describes a course of action that, considering the need of treating very large amounts of material, does not aim to restore aesthetic appearance, but aims to stabilize documents so that they can go back into use, be it in their original or in digital format. We also use all the opportunities and possibilities that this specific situation offers us, taking advantage of the newest technology as well as the large pool of co-workers. In addition to conservation challenges we are facing the constraints of the legal framework of a recourse. One of our specific projects is the treatment of the 3,000 meters of archive material salvaged wet. Vacuum freeze drying units were used in varied places in Germany. Once dried, the documents are put through the cleaning process carried out on site. Another project in which every conservator is currently involved is the development of a specific conservation documentation software in collaboration with programmers. The aim is to digitally write our documentation form for each object we treat, in order to have a specific database and no more paper forms. This program will allow us to assess the quantity and quality of damage, to define the needs for damage-related conservation procedures, and to estimate the time we spend on our disaster recovery process. Coordination of all these projects in an “after-disaster” context is challenging, and requires some non-conservation specific skills, communication of which is of primary importance. Every choice must be the result of a balance between budget options, material/time availabilities, and effective management of personnel.


Nadine Thiel

Head of Conservation, Historical Archive of the City of Cologne
avatar for Marion Verborg

Marion Verborg

Paper Conservator, Historical Archive of the City of Cologne
Marion Verborg is currently paper conservator and lab manager at the Cologne City Archive. After completing a B.S. in medicine and a B.A. in Art History, she graduated from the Sorbonne University conservation Program in Paris in 2010, specializing in paper and book conservation... Read More →


Bettina Schmidt-Czaia

Head of the Archive, Historical Archive of the City of Cologne
Dr. Bettina Schmidt-Czaia studied German and history at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. she completed her PhD in 1992. Her Thesis was about the Wiedenbrücker collegiate St. Aegidii et Caroli Magni in the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Between 1988 and... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Room 710 A